Planners told to ditch their desks

27 Apr 2017  |  David Pidgeon 
Planners told to ditch their desks

Dom Boyd, Tia Castagno, Laurence Green, Matthew Gaunt, Mark Hatwell and Dominic Mills

At Mediatel's 2017 Planning Debate, experts warned that an over-reliance on data and a lack of human interaction was creating a chasm between planners and their audiences

"I can't speak for planners in media agencies, but I suspect they largely sit at their desks rather than getting out and about. I also think this increasingly true of creative planners too."

Those are the words of Laurence Green, founding partner of 101 and winner of gold and silver IPA Effectiveness Awards, and the problem, he argues, is driving the marketing classes further away from their ultimate audiences rather than bringing them closer together.

It is also a problem that, since Brexit, has become even more apparent.

"I think Brexit shone a more general light, for me, on the gap between the people who are in charge of brands and businesses, and their audiences. It's a colossal gap," Green told the audience at Mediatel's 2017 Planning Debate.

Green, whose clients include the BBC, Byron, Heineken, innocent, Tango and Wagamama, argues that an over-reliance on data, combined with a decline in human observation and interaction, is simply making planners less effective.

Green is not alone in his beliefs. Dom Boyd, chief strategy officer at Publicis London, says the business is "brutally simple: it's about people, and culture and what makes people tick. And so the biggest single thing we should do is get out and about."

Laurence Green

Boyd says this does not have to be a big deal; it could be as simple and as cost effective as hanging out in a supermarket watching customers and interviewing people, or talking with people in the pub.

"You often gain insight not from data, but from wasting time," he says.

You often gain insight not from data, but from wasting time"

"It's a pub conversation with your mate, it's a text conversation. It's the stuff around the edges that's really interesting."

Boyd argues that the challenge for planners is to find those unique and often subtle insights and use them to drive conversations and move a brand forward.

"For me, small data has a disproportionate power to achieve that," he says. "But I'm not a binary person, and there is still a place for bigger data - it's never a case of one over the other, we just need to be careful not to get lost in the undertow of digital."

Tia Castagno, head of innovation and content at Vizeum Global, suggests one solution would be to give planners better training, especially early on in their careers.

She says planners are not taught that they need a break from technology to allow their "brains to breathe" and come up with new solutions.

"Everything on the media side is now very much just about the tools, methods and a scientific approach to coming up with ideas," she says. "People feel chained to their desks and chained to data."

Dom Boyd

Meanwhile, for Simon Daglish, group commercial director at ITV, the problem with using too much data is linked directly to diminished brand building and longer-term business outcomes.

"Data is brilliant, but by its very nature it's historical," he says. "The data we use allows us to track, and to some extent predict human behaviour - but automated data does not give us the ability to change human behaviour."

Daglish says that his concern is that this is not a concern in the media industry.

"The drive to automated data planning has led brands to very efficiently farm the short-term while sacrificing their long-term future," he says.

Craig Mawdsley, Simon Daglish, Greg Grimmer, Bruno Soeiro and Will Collin

However, Julian Saunders, a strategist who has worked at Google's Zoo - the tech giant's creative think-tank for brands and agencies - argues that the data many planners use is not necessarily bad, but is often in the wrong hands.

Saunders says there is big difference between "deeply average data planning" and the combination of good data planning - which often seeks out subtle anomalies - combined with imagination and human empathy.

It is, therefore, a case of a skills shortage. Perhaps what adland needs is a finer balance between those that can offer unique human insights derived from intuition and human interaction, and the skills required to understand complex data and seek out the anomalies and useful patterns, akin to the "data artists" media researchers are so desperate to employ.

"There is a risk that the people with the right skills are not coming to our industry in a way that they did in the past"

"There is certainly a risk that the people with the right skills are not coming to our industry in a way that they did in the past," says Craig Mawdsley, head of planning, AMV BBDO - who adds that adland needs people who can not only think strategically, but also be able to invent strategy and new possibilities for brands.

"It’s not the iterative optimisation skill which is now part of what we do all the time, it’s the bit at the beginning where you go ‘what if this were the case?’, ‘what if we did that?’," he says. "That’s the thing that’s invaluable."

For Mawdsley, who along with partner Bridget Angear has been voted London’s number one strategist five times in the past six years, his fear is that the industry is not valuing these sorts of skills nearly enough because too much time and money is being invested trying to compete with the data and tech businesses invading adland.

So, have algorithms, data and technology killed the planning stars?

Not quite. They have just muddied the waters to such an extent that too many people have forgotten the golden rules of good planning - meaning the future requires a new set of skills that focuses on both the human and the machine in more considered measures.

As Naked co-founder and current strategy lead at Karmarama, Will Collin, said: "If you've invented an algorithm that works...then you are a planning star."

Watch: Vizeum, Publicis, AMV BBDO and Karmarama


Mediatel hosted its 2017 Planning Debate in partnership with APG, ITV and Radiocentre.

For list of future events, click here.


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